Border Federal CU Staff
Staff at Border Federal CU in Del Rio, Texas wear their favorite Cinco de Mayo attire to work.

CUs reach out to serve Hispanics’ financial needs

Juntos Avanzamos works to provide Hispanics with financial products and services in a safe, trustworthy environment.

May 5, 2016

A mariachi band will provide music and guests will enjoy Mexican snacks at a Cinco de Mayo celebration at $573 million asset Community 1st Credit Union in Ottumwa, Iowa.

The ongoing festivities aren’t just to honor an important date in Mexican history, but also to celebrate the credit union’s newest achievement: Obtaining the Juntos Avanzamos designation.

“Cinco de Mayo is a very well-known, patriotic date for Mexicans, so we’re trying to communicate that it’s important to us,” says David Suarez, the credit union's bilingual community development manager.

Credit unions across the country are joining Juntos Avanzamos (Together We Advance), a program committed to serving and providing Hispanics with financial products and services in a safe, trustworthy environment.

Created in 2005 by the former Texas Credit Union League, Juntos Avanzamos works to ensure credit unions have adequate policies, procedures, products, and services to meet the financial needs of Hispanics, a growing—and underserved—group.

Last year, the Cornerstone Credit Union League and the National Federation of Community Development Credit Unions announced they would begin working together to expand the program nationwide.

Community 1st is one of the many credit unions that applied for—and have received—the designation after the announcement last fall.

“We saw this program as a perfect way to be part of a nationwide network of credit unions serving the Hispanic population in Iowa,” Suarez says. “We can share our small experiences with our partners in other states. And most important, we can learn from the experiences of how other credit unions are working and serving Hispanics.”

Border Federal Credit Union received its Juntos Avanzamos designation during CUNA’s Governmental Affairs Conference in February.

Nearly 90% of the Del Rio, Texas credit union’s members are Hispanic. While the credit union will continue to serve its members as it has in the past, Maria Martinez, president/CEO of the $141 million asset credit union, says the designation is a tool that can be used to promote the credit union’s commitment to serving the Hispanic community’s needs.

“The Juntos Avanzamos designation is the ‘certification seal’ for our service to the Hispanic community,” Martinez says. “It was way overdue for our credit union. We finally did it and now we’re ready to move forward and use it to better serve and reach out to our Hispanic community.”

Before receiving the designation, Suarez says Community 1st was already reaching out to its Hispanic members through various methods, such as providing bilingual staff, accepting consular identifications and individual tax payer identification numbers (ITIN) to open accounts, and obtain smaller loans as well as immigration loans.

However, the credit union realized it needs to do more, including offering mortgages to members with ITINs, quinceañeras loans, and vacaciones loans. Bilingual staff also are working to become IRS acceptance agents, which will allow members to fill out paperwork to obtain ITINs. The credit union also is working with Coopera Consulting and the Mexican Consulate on other initiatives, such as offering financial education in the Consulate building.

Both Border Federal and Community 1st say having bilingual staff and providing materials in Spanish are key to showing that the credit union is able to communicate with Hispanics in their language, understand their mannerisms, and be sensitive to their needs.

But reaching out to Hispanics to demonstrate a credit union is the best place for them to conduct their financial business requires more than just a common language. Participating in community festivals dedicated to Hispanics and building partnerships with organizations in the community are key to building relationships with the Hispanic community.

“If you really want to make a difference reaching the Hispanic market, you have to be passionate about it,” Suarez says. “Speaking Spanish is important, but that’s not enough at times. You have to know their culture and social behavior before you can gain their trust. When you gain Hispanic members in your credit union, they are going to stay with you for years.”